Ironheart: The Pros and Cons of My New Favorite Marvel Character
Around July of 2016, I was scrolling through the web and saw something that mentioned “Marvel.” Automatically, I clicked on it (note: I am a huge fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, though not so much the comics. They’re probably great, I just don’t read them). Some keywords that caught my eye were ‘black’ ‘female’ and ‘ironman.’ Little did I know then, this announcement was the beginning of my obsession with Marvel’s newest comic hero: Ironheart, aka Riri Williams, a black genius girl from Chicago who remakes Tony Stark’s Ironman suit with spare parts she finds lying around at M.I.T.
In that same summer, the admissions department at M.I.T created a video to promote applications for the class of 2021, called “Not all Heroes Wear Capes.” It showed a brief look into who Ironheart is: a typical college student who occasionally flies around campus in a robotic suit. Here’s the link to it below:
Now as much as I loved the idea of her and the fact that she was basically going to be a future Avenger, I also learned that there were many problematic aspects about how and why she was created. As something to be marketed, I suppose she sounds great. Adding diversity in the ethnic and gender department, she is a fresh face among many long standing heroes. But here’s the thing that really bothers me about this: she isn’t given any imperfections as a character. It’s almost as if the writer was afraid to give her a flaw. She’s a young genius, a common trait in this comic universe, but I soon saw that as a black girl written and designed by white creators, there is a clear hesitation to give her any type of negative trait. Maybe they fear the implication that any negative trait given to her may reflect the views of the creator or Marvel itself, but I think it actually says more that they believe she has no flaws. It is almost to say that she isn’t really a human, but a machine meant to satisfy a gap in representation.
Ironheart’s backstory also feels a bit problematic in some areas to me. She is from Chicago, and part of her background is that her mom, stepdad and friend were out for a picnic and were caught in the crossfire of a shooting. After the incident, she lost both her best friend and her stepdad. She had already lost her father shortly after she was born, so she has lost a father figure twice in her life. This story could really resonate with many people. It is sort of similar to Peter Parker losing Uncle Ben but I cannot help but feel that it connects to her being African-American. From what I’ve read in her comics, she isn’t written with a flaw. She also doesn’t get a full backstory that speaks to who she is without the incorporation of a terrible tragedy. It seems like an attempt to check off a few boxes, or perhaps the creators just were actually inspired by true events. Whatever the case may be, as a black woman myself, I do not feel that Riri should be given this shortcut into heroism. It should not be expected that all this happens just because it’s what people may want to see.
I want a character with her potential to be extremely dynamic, to be undoubtedly human as we find even in Marvel heroes that did not originally come from Earth. She does not even need to seek revenge for those who killed her loved ones. It would just be nice to see her develop into someone who thinks she has all the answers, but becomes her own worst enemy for being afraid of her own vulnerability. I am aware that Riri and her position as Ironheart is a relatively new development in the Marvel comic world, but her first impression has already been made. Riri was a great idea but it doesn’t seem as though she’s found her place yet.
While it's cool seeing a lot of events work out in her favor, it's not quite why fans root for heroes, at least in my experience. understand her whole background with the shooting in Chicago and the trauma that lingers with her from that event, propels her into wanting to save people who can't save themselves, but I think there is an added insecurity beneath her that needs to be unraveled. All that is said about her personality as of now is that she is this bright, highly intelligent young woman which is great, but there has to be more to her than that.
From what I've seen so far, she encounters more female villains then I've seen other heroes encounter, even Black Widow. A big suggestion would be to have her face men in her hero life as she does in her civilian life, since it makes it all the more satisfying if she is able to defeat and/or outsmart them.
Her color will make an impact no matter what. The way I see it, she feels an added pressure to be a hero, especially to the black community, because there is a deeper sense of 'not being able to prevail' there. Beyond her feminist voice, I think she's more or less grappling with the fact that if she fails in anything she does, she's proving all those who doubted her right. Maybe she even doubts herself but does her best to convince everyone that she is confident everything she puts her mind to will work out.
Nevertheless, I do love Ironheart with all my heart, because I can actually see myself in her. Growing up, the super being I felt I could relate to was Lavagirl from “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” as she was a young girl with a fiery power who struggled with connecting to others out of fear that she would hurt them or they would hurt her. I never really saw black people in mainstream movies about superheroes. The biggest example I remember was Halle Berry as Catwoman and a maybe a few minor examples along the way. Of course, Black Panther showed up in “Captain America: Civil War” and will now have his own movie coming out in 2018. Representation certainly matters, but I don’t think representation should be provided just for the sake of representing. Audiences still want to see relatable people, and that goes beyond just how characters appear on the outside. I would’ve been thrilled to see Ironheart when I was younger just for the sake of her looking like me, but now that I’ve grown to uncover various tricks the media uses to make the public think they are promoting diversity without fully doing it, I expect much more out of even fictional characters.
I often like to say that I would love to portray Ironheart in a Marvel movie someday, if the studio was ever planning on bringing her from the comics to the cinema. I have even reached out and received some correspondence from the creator of Ironheart (and Ironman, as well as Spiderman and some other heroes) Brian Bendis in helping work more towards giving her a more fleshed out story. During this past summer I also reached out to M.I.T to also work on a second short film project about Ironheart. I wrote a twenty minute script about life for Riri after joining other superheroes for a while, then being forced to go back to college, but due to the lack of people able to help with the production at M.I.T at the time, I had to shelve the idea. I am still hoping to hear back from Mr. Bendis and other representatives at Marvel and collaborate with them on making sure audiences, especially young black girls get the chance to see a very human, but still powerful superhero that looks like them on a big screen. After seeing Spiderman: Homecoming this summer, I was even more inspired to see Ironheart make her way into the Marvel cinematic universe in the next few years.
It’s so important now more than ever for women and girls, especially those of color to have strong role models, both real and fictional. I just hope to help encourage that, not only by working more with Ironheart, but also with my own films and future projects I hope to create in the entertainment industry some day.